Let me tell you a story about when I was a Nazi commander and killed a LOT of Americans.
It was my second game of Company of Heroes 2: The Western Front Armies. I was commanding the German Oberkommando West, while my friend, who we’ll call Jamie (because that is his name), took the helm of the US Forces. I am focusing on my second game because in my first I was defeated miserably and I do not want you to come away from this review with the impression that I am a loser. I am not a loser. I am NOT.
So, my second game of this multiplayer expansion to CoH2 saw me taking the strategy I had implemented in the first game, which was to spend the majority of my time allowing my soldiers to kick around dust in their home base while Jamie swiftly took control of the map like a war-hungry loon, and ensure that I did the exact opposite. The Oberkommando are equipped with a nifty supply truck that can be deconstructed and moved around the map, so I moved my units to specific vantage points, captured command posts and hid them away in buildings, all while moving said supply truck with me. As Jamie had opted for a more defensive approach than the one he had employed in our first game, the opening 10 minutes were gunfire-free and, as my soldiers moved alongside my supply truck, it felt more like my Nazis were having a road trip than trying to take down the American army.
Though the Oberkommando are more suited to defensive play, with their expensive and heavily-armored vehicles encouraging you to stand your ground until you can afford to roll out the big guns, the versatility of the two factions introduced in The Western Front Armies ensures that you can play any way you like. The way I chose to play was to take control of three-quarters of the map, spreading my troops thinly but ensuring my front line was an intimidating army of half-tracks and on-foot soldiers bunkered up in the many abandoned buildings, providing them with much-needed cover and an advantageous position over Jamie’s US forces when he finally decided to advance them.
The US Army is in many ways the complete opposite of the Oberkommando West. Whereas the OKW favors patience, relying heavily on the players’ acquisition of mobile units, the US Army is all about the soldiers. While America’s riflemen begin each battle as little more than lowly cannon fodder, they’re incredibly adaptable and can be equipped with all manner of weaponry in order to mount both a strong offense and defense. Unlike any other faction in CoH2, their home base is fully loaded from the get-go, though specialist officers must be unlocked in order to take advantage of this. Unfortunately for Jamie, the unforgiving transition across the map caught him unawares, and by the time he had prepared his troops for a surge across the map, I already had him cornered.
This is where the real fun of CoH2 begins—the struggle to fight your way out of seemingly impossible situations. With my troops surrounding him from all angles, Jamie failed to fight his way past them. Every unit he pushed forward would find themselves almost immediately thwarted by my army, until eventually he began equipping his troops with anti-tank weaponry, defeating my front line before attempting to take control of one of my most poorly guarded command posts. He succeeded and for a while it looked like I was going to be on the losing end of one of history’s great underdog stories. The previously indomitable Oberkommando West, under the command of the evil Paul Tamburro, were to be pushed back against all odds by Jamie’s plucky US soldiers. But no matter how exciting the fantasy may be, the reality is that the underdogs will fail nine times out of ten. This isn’t Hollywood, this is WAR and as I began piling more and more troops onto the battlefield while Jamie was focused on defending his singular command post with all his might, I was prepared to take control of the map once and for all.
There are eight maps in The Western Front Armies, all of which are well-balanced and offer nice seasonal touches. In Annihilation mode, in which you’re tasked with destroying enemy placements, battles tend to last much longer than they do in the standard Victory Point mode and therefore the effects of war are much more visible. The remnants of demolished buildings scatter along the ground, exploded and burning vehicles give the terrain the appearance of a tank graveyard and mortar fire frequently rains down from the sky. It looks like Hell, but in a good way. Unfortunately, as was the case in the vanilla Company of Heroes 2, the look of the game is mired by a huge HUD which takes up nearly half the screen. I understand that developer Relic Entertainment was unlikely to make such a large renovation in a mere expansion, but that doesn’t make its ugliness any more forgivable.
So as Jamie desperately clung onto his control over the command post, I began moving my army across the map. “Oh shit!” he exclaimed, as he watched them trudge through the snowy terrain towards him. A solitary tank of mine began blasting away at the foundations of his shelter, while my foot soldiers laid down sandbags for makeshift cover. Buildings provide an unrealistically great deal of cover, so although he only had four men tucked away in there, I was prepared for a long battle. After losing several of my ground units, I finally managed to bring the building crumbling down, killing his troops in the process. I now had control over the command post, and the battle was once again mine to win.
If you’re on the losing end in a real-time strategy game, it’s often an arduous wait until the game’s conclusion. CoH2 is popular because it always feels as though the tides could change at any moment in any battle and though Jamie eventually succumbed to the might of the Oberkommando, it remained exciting by virtue of him making a few key strategic decisions that almost got the better of me. I won the game by a considerable margin, but it always felt like my luck could change on a dime. Those who have been enjoying Company of Heroes 2 since its release last year will no doubt want to get their hands on the two great new armies here, along with the extra maps, and those who haven’t yet had a chance to play it will be happy to learn that this expansion gives you access to all of the armies and maps featured in the vanilla game’s multiplayer component. The single-player campaign is absent, but as that was the most poorly received aspect of CoH2, this is a great, cheaper starting point.
If you’ve never played Company of Heroes 2 and are interested in the RTS genre, buy this. If you already own CoH2, then at $19.99 this expansion may be a little pricey, though those who loved the base game will lap up the versatility of the new armies and the exhilarating wars that can be waged in the added maps.
Code provided by publisher. Exclusive to PC.